It may not feel like the best news Nicholas Kristof could get, but it almost certainly is. According to Oregon secretary of state Shemia Fagan, the once-and-future New York Times columnist doesn’t meet the residency requirement for his planned gubernatorial bid. In fact, he doesn’t even come close:
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Nick Kristof does not meet Oregon’s residency requirement to qualify to run for governor, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced Thursday morning.
Fagan offered no specifics about why her administration found Kristof did not meet the three year residency requirement, which a previous secretary of state and Oregon courts have interpreted with deference to candidates.
“In this instance, the candidate clearly does not meet the constitutional requirement to run or serve as governor of Oregon,” Fagan said in a press release.
Well, there’s “deference,” and there’s complete refusal to enforce residency provisions. Fagan might have offered some deference had Kristof’s residency been a few months on one side or the other of the requirement. However, Kristof’s voting record put him 3,000 miles away two years prior to the upcoming election:
Kristof filed to run for governor on Dec. 20 but even before he filed, a lawyer for Fagan questioned how the former columnist could meet the requirement since he voted in New York in November 2020, well after the Nov. 8, 2019, deadline for a 2022 candidate for governor to establish Oregon residency.
Yeah, there’s not much “deference” to be had here, other than a complete capitulation. And if Fagan refused to enforce the constitutional three-year residency requirement, the other Democratic primary candidates would likely have taken the state to court to force it to deny Kristof’s application.
Fagan’s office warned Kristof’s campaign attorney of the problem five weeks ago. They suggested that Kristof accelerate his application so any denial would come early enough to conduct a court challenge:
The agency does not decide whether any person is qualified for office before they file their candidacy and have the opportunity to respond to any questions from the Elections Division. But media reports (and your substantial published memo) suggest that determining Mr. Kristof’s residency may not be as simple as consulting the OCVR database and checking a box.
Because the matter likely requires legal interpretation, it is possible that someone – whether Mr. Kristof or someone else – will disagree with the decision, whatever that might be, and seek to appeal it under ORS 246.910. Such appeals are filed in circuit court; given the novelty of these issues, they might then go to one or more appellate courts. As all lawyers know, appeals take time. The courts, not the litigants, decide how much time. It would not be surprising at all for a final resolution to take months.
In short, Mr. Kristof’s candidacy could reasonably generate an extended legal challenge, whether or not there is a determination that he meets minimum qualifications for office. A legal challenge could take months. Statute requires Oregon’s county clerks to print ballots by March 17, 61 days before the May 2022 primary. That deadline is three-and-a-half months away, a period that includes the winter holiday season.
Let the court games begin! Courts might accelerate their review of a challenge by Team Kristof with these deadlines in mind, of course, but the SOS office was right to warn of the issue when it did. This could drag out for a while, and it could involve a lot of nasty infighting within the Democratic Party in Oregon even apart from the primary competition. In a more competitive state that would boost Republican chances at the office, but Oregon’s reliably blue, so it might only provide some entertainment value and nothing more.
At some point, though, Kristof should reallllly consider whether any of this is worth the effort. Kristof’s reliably on the Left, but so will any nominee Democrats produce in this primary, and most of his competitors have more experience in actual politicking than he does. Spending decades as a newsman and columnist at the NYT does not provide a solid grounding for executive potential in managing vast bureaucracies in state government.
More to the point, Kristof had more potential to do good at his previous perch as a columnist focusing on the downtrodden here and abroad. While our politics are vastly different, Kristof did a good job of shining a light on the dispossessed and forgotten and at least put pressure on policymakers to respond to those issues. That’s a unique position of influence that is Kristof’s alone, while plenty of others who have lived in Oregon for at least the last three years are at least as qualified to govern, if not more so. Why leave that behind only to end up having to solve Portland’s problems, since Portland clearly can’t solve them on their own?
Rather than fight to get on a ballot, maybe Kristof can use this as an opportunity to reconsider why he left his unique perch in the first place.